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UTA Considers Outsourcing Commuter Rail Operation

UTA Considers Outsourcing Commuter Rail Operation

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Transit Authority, which just recently won approval from the Federal Transit Administration, to begin construction of its commuter is considering outsourcing operation and maintenance of its planned $580 million system.

John Inglish, the agency's general manager, said he would prefer to use UTA employees to run the trains, but would look at operations in other cities for ideas.

"Our people are great," he said, adding UTA bus drivers have shown the ability to adapt to TRAX operations. But commuter rail, with its diesel locomotives, requires more complex training.

The decision would have to be made by the spring in order to solicit contract bids, he said Friday.

Steve Meyer, UTA commuter-rail manager, said outsourcing is common in the transit industry. UTA is researching what other agencies have done, and has found that in general, the newer the system, the more likely it is to outsource.

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority in Los Angeles contracts with Amtrak to run its Metrolink commuter trains that connect six counties. In Baltimore, the Maryland Transit Administration has multiple contracts for services on its MARC system, said MTA spokesman Walter Hayes. Amtrak and CSX own the rails. CSX employees operate the trains.

"That was sort of the deal, (because) we're using their tracks," Hayes told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Meyer said UTA will own its system's 44 miles of track to avoid having to make deals with Union Pacific over use of the rails.

If UTA did contract out, the company chosen to run the trains would move into the UTA facility and would be under the agency's control.

"I don't think you could tell who was a transit agency employee or who was a contract employee," Meyer said. "They have the same maintenance coveralls. I don't think the public would see a difference."

Robert Baty, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 382, said the union would like the 35 or 40 new commuter rail operators to be UTA employees.

"We're going to do our best as a union to secure the work for our work force," he said. "John (Inglish) has realities he has to deal with. It may turn out to be something we're going have fight for."

The heavy rail diesel-electric locomotives require more intense training than anything UTA now has, said Meyer. Amtrak operators undergo a year of training. UP engineers learn first on simulators, then have extensive cab instruction.

TRAX drivers have about a week of classroom instruction before they take their first run as operators.

Meyer said the benefits of keeping operations in-house include a more stable work force and not having to pay contractors. On the other hand, contracting out would mean getting experienced operators right away, lower wage and benefit costs and incentive-based systems to ensure quality service.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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